Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Begging Bowl - Part Two

Last week, I shared the story of the begging bowl - and how filling an empty bowl with whatever you desire can be a way of recognizing God's presence. My daughter, Anna, decided to choose a bowl and fill with various items. Here are her comments about the experience written two years ago.

"When I read my mom's post, I was filled with the customary inspiration that comes after reading her words. I connected even deeper to this particular post since the bowl she described came from the shop where I work. I am beyond delighted that something she bought during a visit to Portland inspired such a mindful project. When I read the call-to-action for her readers to also conduct a "bowl project," I knew it was something I wanted to do.

I have the classic conundrum of those with both a small living space and borderline hoarder tendencies: I don't have a lot of room in  my one bedroom apartment, but I do have a lot of things I want to keep. Most of these things are reminders of love. My parents are a constant reminder of love, and their acts are the things that remind me of God's love as well. My bowl - well not a bowl at all, but a rather small vessel handmade by one of my favorite ceramicists in Portland - became a place for holding these special things.

Often times, I am messy in my way of keeping track of these items that cross many miles to get to me and remind me that I am loved.  Having the bowl project gave me a devoted place to keep these things, a place that is beautiful in decoration and easy to access, but also didn't take up too much space in my apartment.

Things that found their way in there were mindfully placed momentoes of love: handwritten notes from my mom, an envelope addressed by my dad (just seeing familiar handwriting is a reminder of love to me), a movie ticket a friend bought me out of love - because we both needed to escape the heat and what better treat that a cool, dark theater?

Through this project, I learned that simply being open and ready to receive is enough to find oneself "overflowing with expressions of love," as my mom wrote. It doesn't have to take up a lot of space in your mind or on your countertop, nor is it complicated to catalogue. I never second-guessed what I put in the bowl, I just knew. Because I was open.

Ultimately my bowl experience was a fulfillment of my mon's prayer for her readers as the end of her post. That prayer reads: God, fill us to overlfowing with tangible expressions of your goodness, love and challenge. Guide our reflections with what you give so we can learn more about ourselves and our lives with you. Amen.

Who doesn't want to feel that? I feel blessed that I did through this project, and continue to because of it."

Anna Reed - August 27

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Begging Bowl - Part 1

A few years ago, my daughter, Anna, who lives in Oregon, was the director of marketing and media for "Betsy and Iya" an independent jewelry store in Portland. We when visited Anna, we always spent some time at the store, perusuing the merchandise and watching the jewlery makers put together unique and classic earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces.

During one visit, I was captivated by a variety of colorful bowls, the owners purchased during a trip to visit family in Guatemala. The tightly woven containers came in different shapes and depths. I purchased two, knowing I would use them for something in the future.

When we returned home, I was reminded of a story I read about bowls in a book by Sue Bender, "Everyday Sacred - A Woman's Journey Home. Sue talks about a  monk who left his home every day holding an empty bowl in his hands. Whatever was placed in the bowl was his nourishment for the day.

Sue continues;

     "It was obvious to all who knew me that I wasn't a monk and the very idea of begging would make most of us uncomfortable. In spite of that, the image of a begging bowl reached out and grabbed my heart.

     Initially, I didn't know whether I was the monk or the bowl or the things that would fill the bowl or all three, but I trusted the words and the image completely."

Sue spends the rest of the book describing stories, experiences and people that filled her bowl during several years.

Thoughts on My Two Bowls

Looking at the two bowls from "Betsy and Iya" resting on my office floor, I considered how a bowl can teach three things about how to be present to God: open, ready to receive, and waiting to be filled.

Here's a project for the summer during this period of time called "Ordinary" on the liturgical calendar.

1. Find a bowl. Maybe it's your favorite mixing bowl, your container for cereal or a decorative bowl.
2. Remember where you purchased the bowl and how you use it. If the bowl was a gift, recall the occasion and the giver.
3. Bless the bowl. Hold the bowl in both hands. Ask God to keep your heart open like the bowl to receive whatever God might want to fill it with.
4. Invite God at the beginning of each day to fill your bowl. Become aware of how God is coming to you. Whatever you feel God leading you to, include as content in the bowl.
5. At the end of July, look how your bowl was filled. Examine the contents to see what comes to your heart.

When I decided to fill a bowl for a few weeks, I discovered scripture, prayers, newspaper clippings and photographs coming my way. I wrote insights and perspectives I received about life from other people, books, or God I wanted to remember. If I received a letter or note during this time, these found a home in my bowl too.

Dried peonies, my favorite spring flower, rested in my bowl, the beauty amplified while drying. Small pieces of leftover fabric from sewing projects and a church bulletin with sermon notes also filled the bowl.

I carried the bowl just about everywhere I went. The bowl rested on the passenger side of the car and followed me from room to room at home. God speaks anywhere and anytime. The bowl helped me remember to keep my heart open, ready to receive and be filled.

Reflection Question

1. How can an open bowl serve as a reminder to open your heart to God? Be curious about what can find a home in your bowl.

Prayer: God, fill us to overflowing with tangible expressions of your goodness, love and challenge. Guide our reflections with what you give so we can learn more about ourselves and our lives with you. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Comfort - to soothe, console; relief in afflictioin

A few years ago, I was listening to one of my favorite NPR shows, "Fresh Air" hosted by Terry Gross, at noon every day. She was interviewing the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote "The Sympathizer."

Mr. Nguyen described his family's flight from Viet Nam to San Jose, California, when he was in elementary school. His parents found work in a Vietnamese grocery store. After a year, they opened their own store that contained food items not available in any other place, such as huge sacks of rice, Vietnamese fruit and fish sauce called nuoc mam - the life-blood of Vietnamese cuisine.

The odor of the food products in the store, especially the scent of rice, fruit and spices, led Viet Nguyen to notice, "There was a kind of mustiness which I assume might have been alien to Americans, but to Vietnamese people, it was the smell of comfort."

Sources of Comfort

Comfort - I heard that word earlier in the week when I was visiting one of my favorite places, Conner Prairie, an 1829 village filled with costumed people playing various roles in homes and businesses of that era.

I was in the animal barn my usual first stop. Two large sheep were resting in front of a fan that was as tall as me - just under five feet. Both rested their heads on the metal guard enclosing the swirling blades.

I asked the attendant if the sheep were hot, especially since the outside temperatures were cool. She replied, "No, they just like to hear the noise of the fan. It brings them comfort."

"Like white noise that sometimes is used to lull babies and young children to sleep?" I asked.

She smiled, "Yes."

Hmm, I thought, sheep need comfort too. A few days later, I remembered the NPR feature on the comforting smell of the Vietnamese grocery store and reflected on the many ways we need comfort, both human and animals.

Comfort Food

A couple of weeks after my visit to Conner Prairie, I was reading the magazine section of The New York Times.  Turning to page 32, I found this headline, "The Ultimate Comfort Food - when things get tough nerves can be sooth by "aligot" cheesy mashed potatoes."

The author, Tejal Rao, states in the first paragraph,

     "In times of great stress or of flickering low-level dread, I find that cancelling all my plans and staying in to make mashed potatoes generally helps. This year there were quite a few opportunities to do so. Election-related anxiety gnawed at me for months, lighting up old networks of pain in my shoulders and back. I started a thrilling, but terrifying new job. I worried about my grandmother, almost 80, living alone. I turn to "aligot" the cheese-thickened mashed potatoes with roots in central France. Aligot doesn't fix anything, but it does put a little cushion between you and the abyss, whatever form the abyss might take."

What Is Your Go-To Source of Comfort

Many people have "go to" items when comfort is needed. When I miss one of my children, I take one of their robes off the hook in the bathroom and wear it for a short time.

Sometimes when my heart aches for a heathy home that was not part of my past, I go to Conner Prairie and walk through the homesteads, watching the women sew and quilt or cook over a hearth with an open fire. I note stacks of potholders on the hearth or rows of clay jars made on the grounds lined in order in the pantry - they bring comfort to that part of my heart that still craves order. Even if I have to go to a fictional past, I find it helps.

Comfort - how do you find comfort in times of loss or challenging, disruptive or chaotic times?

     - a favorite mug filled with coffee or tea?
     - a passage of scripture that speaks to you and penetrates those chambers of your heart that ache?
      - pictures of people who are dear and remind you of good times?
      - music -or the soothing hum of white noise?
      -physical exercise?

I find comfort in all of the above and more. Nature, for example, moves me - we who watch the daily rhythms of nature's changes, find peace and comfort in predictable pattern. When I swim, the regular flow of my arms, legs and breathing cycle brings comfort for the the predictability, familiarity and long-time practice.

May you find comfort whether in familiar smells of your traditional food, through the soft murmur of white noise, in the familiar flavor and texture of whatever "aligot-type" food you like to prepare, in reading scripture, in music and movement. Finding comfort is important - we all need comfort.

For Your Reflection

1. What brings you comfort, food? an activity? a hobby? music? scripture? a favorite book? The possibilities are endless.

Prayer: God, your love and presence are our immediate comfort as we go through days that have bumps and unexpected turns. Increase our awareness of your proximity, for you can soothe our hearts and restore our balance in you and in ourselves. Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Sit With Me

Shortly after the last supper in the upper room, Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). Right befor he left, he predicted Peter's betrayal and the disciple's desertion. He knew what was ahead and how he would suffer. His heart was heavy.

Jesus asked the disciples to "Sit here while I go over and pray," (Matthew 26:36) Jesus expressed a need for companionship and comfort from those who knew him well and who had walked beside him in ministry.

But what happened? The disciples fell asleep while Jesus expressed to his father, deep sorrow and anguish. (Matthew 26:37-39).  They were unable to "sit with" Jesus and be present to his needs even for a short time.

Sitting Shiva  - A Jewish Tradition

The Jewish faith observes a tradition called sitting shiva for seven days following a death. The family gathers at one location where family and friends can come, spend time and offer comfort and sympathy in the days following a loss.

When my husband's father died suddenly on Sunday December 20, 1983, word spread quickly among the two congregations he was serving. By mid-afternoon only a few hours after his mother called to inform us of his father's passing, our small parsonage living room was filled with people who came to sit with us.

We were still in shock. A steady stream of people came by well into the evening to let us know by their presence they were keeping us in prayer. They offered comfort and companionship, letting us talk as we began the process of grieving our beloved father, father-in-law and grandad. These people were sitting shiva, so to speak with us.

Sitting with Others

Almost a year ago, I "sat with" a friend and her extended family while her daughter, who is also my friend had surgery for a brain tumor. The chairs in the hospital waiting room were arranged in a circle. We didn't say much during the two hour surgery, mainly making small talk to break the tension and pass the time. But we didn't need to say much because God's presence was felt in those moments of anxiety and uncertainty as we sat in a circle of love.

Sitting with others, especially when few words are spoken, let's God's presence and love come through. When we sit with another, we make room in our hearts for him or her, just like God does for us. When we sit with someone, we demonstrate and model how God is present to us through giving our time, listening, offering reflection and prayer - precious gifts to those about whom we care.

Sitting with someone can also be a for a happy occasion. A few years ago, my friend, Ann, who lives in Vincennes, had a doctor's appointment in Indianapolis the day before my birthday. She decided to spend the night with a daughter who lived about a mile from me to help celebrate my birthday. I prepared lunch and Ann came over. She sat with me, as we shared what was happening in our lives. I still remember the joy of Ann's gift of time. I even drew a picture to honor our visit.

When I can express what I feel God is telling me or I draw a picture when I don't have the words to say, God comes and sits with me.

When I rest with a few verses of scripture and ask God to enter my study, God is sitting with me.

God Sits With Us

Psalm 139 verse 5 assures us of God's presence. "You are all around me in front and in back - and you have put your hand on me." Reflect on how God comes to you and you will identify how God sits with you.

I am sad Jesus did not have love and support from his close friends during his time of great need. We feel his disapppointment and frustration with the disciples who failed him, when he said in Matthew 26:40, "Peter, how is it that you were not able to keep watch with me for even an hour?" Knowing Jesus' feelings, can inspire us to be present to others in any circumstance or event.

Reflection Questions

1. Recall an occasion when someone "sat with" you ?  How did this companionship make you feel?

2. How have you "sat with" others for happy and sad occasions? Reflect on your experience.

Prayer: God, you are indeed all around us - in front and in back. You sit with us in many ways offering silent companionship we can hear in our hearts and feel in our souls. Deepen our faith and trust in you so that we can increase our awareness of how you "sit with" us. Guide us and direct our visition to those who may need us to "sit with" them. Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Link

My late friend, Annabel Hartman, mentored me in many ways since I first met her in 1983. She and her late husband, Grover, were members of Center United Methodist Church on the south side of Indianapolis where Mike served from November, 1983, to June, 1989.

Annabel cared for me as a devoted mother would a child. She prepared meals periodically during my pregnancy with Anna. She attended Sarah's school programs, assuming the role of grandmother for both children with her interest and love. I appreciated Annabel's spirituality which helped me deepen my own walk with God.

A Move and a Link

When Mike was appointed to serve in Vincennes, June, 1989, I was sad to leave Annabel. We decided to keep in touch writing letters. Annabel, despite her work and involvement with church activities, was faithful to answer each letter I wrote. I have a basket containing her letters and cards saved through the years. Even after we returned to central Indiana, we still wrote letters.

In one letter, I shared my concern about "non-productive" activity such as driving children various places or participating in church events. I lamented my lack of time to "cultivate my self because of being engulfed by responsibilities to others."

Annabel replied, "We can be perpetually involved in worship, while we are also very busy in the world of daily affairs. Can't just being in the company of others who need relationship cultivate the self? Driving kids is productive in that we become the servant. Doing odd jobs at church is productive if we see ourselves as a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we. Just being is enough for me, if in my position of 'being' I am becoming a bigger, better person because I am 'being' for someone else, however simple or menial the task or service." (letter dated May 10, 1990)

I prayed with her letter for many days. Through the years her phrase, "if we see ourselves as a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we" left an imprint on my heart and altered my perspective of everyday tasks. Thinking of myself as a "link" has brought value to all I do and to each interaction.

A Recent Link

I was reminded again of being a link when I stopped at Walmart to purchase twenty-four yards of black fabric for Sarah to use on bulletin boards in her art room.

"Do you have black fabric?" I asked the employee in the craft department.

"I can't hear you," she replied. Thinking she might be hearing impaired, I repeated my question looking at her directly. She pointed to a row of solid fabric on the top shelf. I reached the bolt and brought it to the cutting table.

"I need twenty-four yards please."

"What are you doing with twenty-four yards?"

"My daughter is an art teacher. She prefers fabric rather than paper on her bulletin boards."

"I like art too. When I was in Italy, I hired a teacher who taught me how to draw and paint. I did a lot of art through the years. My son is a really good artist. He draws faces that really look like the person. I like art a lot."

She seemed to cut with new energy as she turned the bolt over and over until cutting the last inch. She folded the fabric with a big smile, placing the pile in my hands.

"Thank you. You're a link to art, helping my daughter prepare her room."

She grinned, "I still like art very much."

Links Today

Now my days are much less hectic. I am always mindful how I can be a link wherever I go. For example, when I hold the door open for the person behind me entering or exiting a store, I am a link to another's progress.

When I affirm or encourage, I am a link to someone's growth. When I care for a friend's child, I am a link providing space for growth, pleasure or relaxation. My prayers link me to God in intentional ways for others or myself.

I am so grateful for Annabel's thirty-four year influence on my life. I treasure the time I spent with her. Even until her death at 101, she was still filling me with wisdom and love.

Reflection Question

1. How are you a link in the path you follow each day?

Prayer:  God, I ask you to guide my heart and direct my vision in ways I can be a link for others. The positive energy I receive when I think of myself as a link, reminds me how Jesus used objects to explain or link us to you. Amen.